Not even a year ago, it seemed as though almost anybody could sell a TV series in the free-spending Peak TV economy. Now, just to get a project up and running, one must possess the acumen of a surgeon general. “My line producer has become a semi-expert in medical tech as he deals with setting up our mobile lab for testing,” says The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang, whose AMC drama resumed filming at the top of October. “Everything is almost unrecognizably different.”
TV’s most powerful producers aren’t just responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with script overhauls, frequent nose-swabs and meticulous scene blocking. They’re adapting to new normals that shatter and reset on a nearly daily basis. And as some go back to set — most of them after the longest breaks of their career — the changes to the day-to-day are dramatic. “Being on set in 2020 reminds me of what a dystopian television show being taped during a civil war would look like,” says Kenya Barris. “I fear I will never know set life as back to normal, sadly.”
If there’s a silver lining to this supremely bizarre year, it’s that the appetite for scripted programming endures. From such buzzy breakouts as Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You and Tony McNamara’s The Great to the offerings of prolific uber-creators Tyler Perry and Greg Berlanti, even a pandemic and the recent spate of un-renewals can’t slow the content race. And in its annual survey of TV’s most influential players — those in-demand writer-producers who kept the pipeline full with original episodes over the past 12 months (sorry, Handmaid’s Tale!) — THR polled the creative class on everything from new precautions and rethinking police procedurals amid calls for social justice to life without agents and the shows that got them through lockdown … with only one mention of Tiger King.
Methodology: THR selected its 2020 power showrunners from all writer- producers with scripted series that aired original episodes between September 2019 and September 2020. They are not apples to apples, rather judged relative to slates, deal size, ratings, value to platform and studio, cultural impact and awards. Profiles written by Michael O’Connell and Lesley Goldberg.